Various Artists

The New York-based dance label Ultra excels at neat summations of current electronic-music fads: Its recent electroclash compilation pitted young nü-wavers like Chicks on Speed and Fischerspooner against their stalwart '80s antecedents, and its new trance set, though by definition creatively atrophied, condenses all the big-room exhilaration that scene has to offer into one handy package. But the label's real pleasures are its downtempo mix CDs, which routinely stand out in an increasingly crowded chill-out field thanks to their catholic tracklists and subtle segues, and the refined, self-conscious sense of yuppie chic that makes them such a hit at the Pottery Barn. Chilled 03 wastes no time wooing the silverware set: Lifestyle-retailer staple Norah Jones and guitarist Charlie Hunter kick things off with a svelte rendition of Roxy Music's "More Than This" that feminizes Bryan Ferry's bachelor-pad polish, then pass the baton to U.K. trip-hop outfit Alpha, who reimagine Coldplay's "Yellow" as dour 3 a.m. soul-funk. Plenty of the usual suspects show up elsewhere--Beth Orton, Jazzanova, Cinematic Orchestra, Bebel Gilberto in a mildly block-rocking Rae & Christian remix--yet unexpected treats such as Norwegian balladeer Sondre Lerche's natty "Dead Passengers" and French studio whiz Bertrand Burgalat's "Aux Cyclades Électronique" keep things from slipping into slow-groove tedium, while also suggesting ample room within the form for growth. Ring in the new year with niche-market style.
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Mikael Wood

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